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Friday, November 17, 2017

The Sweet Dreams Series, Rebooting the Blog, and Writing Stuff!

The reboot is underway...welcome to mid-November and the return of "Words of a Pre-Curmudgeonly Zen Pagan."

I was inspired by my old friend Riz to finally do something I've been wanting to do for a long time and see if I can actually make things work. 

To show you how incredibly brain-dead I am when it come to computers, it took me this long (w/help from a nice tech support lady) to figure out how to link my old blog to my website.

Not like a lot's going on, but we gotta get that back in action. So what is going on?

Well, I'm forever going to be Pre-Curmudgeonly, because I don't think I've gotten that old, or that grumpy that I'm gonna be like that. I'm doing my best to deal with growing older, and knowing that while I can't fight off Father Time, I can still live with him.

I write this as I'm doing a Ninja Book Signing in the metropolis of Dillsburg, PA.

Wait for it...

Don't know why it's so small on this page, but whatever. Yes, sitting about, making like the pretentious author to see if any of the Millenials or Boomers will notice that stack of books with my name on them before their eyes...but then, most people don't come here to buy books.

But you never know.

Add to it, the battle rages on to get books in stores, even indie shops. They sell only what they can sell, that's about all.

Now if you've not seen my blog posts here in a while, that is because I was blogging on my website, and Wix didn't tell me specifically that I could fucking link this to that. Until that nice young lady told me I could and showed me. 

So "More" at the top of the old webpage, and you can find the recent stuff.

No one's really looking, so the grumpy old guy is gonna blog here again, so there!

Now...where are we at this point?

Okay...let's take this under further review: "Live from the Cafe" is the latest, and I'm flogging it best I can. The big news of late is that Sunbury Press Books is spinning off into a number of new presses. I'm on Brown Posey Press.

Cute. And different. I like different.

So "Live..." and "A Moment in the Sun" are on Brown Posey, and "Parasite Girls" can still be found at Amazon.

Link Time!

OK...everything is right there. Or here...

Now...the next one is coming...back in 2007, I began combining weird elements of Japan, time travel, anime, and the blues into a thing I called the Sweet Dreams Series. The first book of the series, "Searching for Roy Buchanan" is set for sometime next year.

The story has changed a lot. I am not finished with it. Years of dreaming, weird conversations with crazy characters, scenarios that made zero sense, and a lot of discussions have brought the gang just a little bit closer to their coming out.

It's still completely mad. 

The thing that is important to me is to expand the markets for all my works. When I write, I write like I'm watching a movie. What does this look like on screen? In the pages of a graphic novel? Does this adapt, and still tell the story?

So far, I've done pretty well with it I think. Now...getting these into the hands of people who actually buy things.

And also to get those other fun things, such as the people who can help bring those to reality, the book is one thing, the movies, the anime, and graphic novels, so much more that is out of my hands, at least for now.

So there is that. I have many more titles. More stories. Not in the series, but more written, and nearly ready to go. I have to figure how to get these out in the coming years. 

A lot of possibilities, but sometimes I feel I need an agent or a booker, or a manager, or something.

Now what else? My life is reasonably stable. Life in Harrisburg is good; I'm quite enjoying my home, and it feels more like one as time goes by. 

Of course, I have to get out to be around the humans, my cats will go mad having me in there all the time!

Depression seems to have finished with me for now, but I also know it is always there...I've managed to get that past for a bit, and I've had to make some changes.

I'm still a bit mad; still a bit hyper-focused, still cynical, still probably very weird to be around. But I gotta do something.

I want to share this again. I generally do not write poetry, but this came out the last time I blogged. I rather like it.


"I don't honestly expect anyone to love, or even remotely like me. I must seem really awkward to people who have never met me before, or have only heard of me. I almost have never watched myself on video, and while I do have to listen to my voice pretty often in the journalistic world, I don't take too much time to marvel at how fabulous I am.

Because I'm not. I'm me.

Me is a loner, a depressive, anxious, obsessive character.

Me is someone who has slowly tried to peel away the various layers of dead skin, to consider what is inside.

Me is curious about that internal character; one that tries to do the right things, tries to be nice to people, and tries to treat them the way he'd like to be.

Me occasionally finds that odd person who he recognizes, meaning he recognizes himself in that person. Two different people, two different personalities, two different human beings, but who see the unique in one another, and are cool with that.

Me does not try to outdo people, outsell people, or step on people to get his own way. 

Me tries not to hurt people, but sometimes does, usually inadvertently.

When that happens, Me agonizes over it, and wants to make things right. Even after doing that, and even being forgiven, Me remains unforgiven for a very long time.

Me spent years in self-loathing, but not self-pity. Those are different things.

Me spent years on medication, which stabilized and calmed him enough to where he could function again. After 12 years of that, Me finally had to give it up. 

Giving up the drug was easier than quitting smoking, go figure. 

After 3-4 weeks of withdrawal, Me saw colors again.

Me wonders how he was able to create, to write nonstop for 10 years, and now after three published works, is prepared to unveil the one that started everything...the first book of the Sweet Dreams Series.

Me has found a few good things. Me can do a few things well, if he applies himself to it, and is mindful.

Me also likes to write, to create, and to him it is fun, and also therapy.

Work to Me is not work. Me has spent more than 30 years doing just what he wanted to do.

Me is no longer unhappy about not being something he really had no right trying for, because he just was not that thing. Me was better than that.

Me takes a little pardonable pride (hopefully) that what he creates is at least appreciated, even if not understood.

Me does not know where this will end. Me wonders about what could occur, because nothing would make him happier than to see someone, even if one person, enjoy what he has to offer, and know he made a difference, even for one moment.

The characters in Me's books are not all Me, they are friends, acquaintances, people Me has run across, and those from the back of Me's self-consciousness. They are interesting, diverse, funny, saddened, crazed lunatics who generally are trying to make their way and figure out what the point of their lives are.

Me doesn't own a lot of shit. Me is trying to get rid of a lot of shit. Me does not drive a big car, does not have a big house, does not own a time-share in Cozumel, and has never traveled that much. 

But Me knows the time for things will come when they come, and Me just hopes to not have to leave this body before finding out how that road he started on so many years ago ends. Probably like Shel Silverstein's book cover, it might just be that hilariously silly edge of disaster, but who knows?

Me doesn't hate you for what you have, nor is Me jealous. Enjoy what you have; Me is thankful to have what he does.

Me likes being at home now, taking some sort of care of his home, his catkids, and puttering about in his studio, his bedroom, or wherever.

Me likes a good stiff cup of Morebucks (the coffee, really), and to just fucking exist.

Me is all right. Me is gonna be all right, because he's looking after himself, and thinking about what little thing he can give that'll help.

Me won't save the world, but he might save himself.

What do you think? Weird, eh?

Oh well...I'm doing okay, and I must continue to be patient, but also drive forward each day if ever I'm to get these things out, and to get a public to actually look at my work, and see the potential for the other things.

Anyway, this is where we are now. I hope we can keep on moving, past the madness in our world right now, before we become the dystopian idiocy that everyone likes to wank about but doesn't want to live for real.

95% of the world does live that way, it feels like.

Anyway, this grumpy old cat needs more coffee, and he's gotta move.

Let me know if you like my work...please leave a review at Amazon, Brown Posey or wherever you like if you've read my shit, and let me know what you think.

Gotta move, gotta move. 

Peace, Out.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Great Northeastern Book Tour, "Live from the Cafe," and Other Musings

Well, here we are again...fooling around with colors, fonts and other inane things as I sit here, trying to stay awake, and also working to figure out what on earth I am to do next.
It's been nearly a week, and my new book, "Live from the Cafe" is out...

It's just arrived in my hands, the physical books, and they look great. The book is 328 pages, but the print is of decent size, and I feel this will be a good, fast read. 
I have been fooling around with a bunch of ideas in my head, and I have decided to try a few promotional things this summer. I've gotten an opportunity, and so I've built around it.
Seems like we're always on display and always on the make, so I figure best to embrace it. Before and after events, I am trying my own weird little concept:


I know, you're asking, "What the fuck are those?" vewy, vewy quiet..."
Since I've discovered that book shops (even indie ones!) and other places of business just don't have the time or wherewithal to have every single undiscovered and unknown author in their establishment, you have to do your own thing.
I am stealing an idea from Amanda Palmer...any fan of hers knows when on tour, she likes to do "Ninja Gigs." She'll show up with a ukelele (or if there's a piano, even better) at a place and do a free, spontaneous gig. Those are more fun sometimes.

Those just look like more fun, don't they?
So, I'm doing this...I'll choose random places, and then promote on social media that I'll be doing a ninja book signing. If you want to get a copy of "Live..." or one of my other books, just show up.
"Aren't you gonna get in trouble for that?" You may ask.
Well, I might. But it's like this. I put up NO signs. The book sits next to my laptop and my coffee, like so:

Sorry for the glare. But that's it. I'm just sitting here, enjoying my coffee, while a couple hundred people in various forms of dress/undress fly through this place and get tanked up.
Now trouble? As I say, I'm not bothering anyone. I'm not talking to anyone. I'm just here. If anyone sees the book and asks, then I'll talk to them.
If you come see me, and decide to buy, the transaction is done between two agreeing parties.
No one gets hurt, no one is bothered, and I'm also paying for my drinks. 
I'll have fun with this, and refine it. I don't expect huge sales, but as I spend lots of time out and about, why not have fun?
Now...the Great Northeastern Book Tour, haha...well, I have a couple of events lined up, and here's what I'm doing so far.
On Thursday, July 13th, I'll be reading and signing (and hopefully selling) at DogStar Books in Lancaster as part of the Turning Wheel series of authors. This will be fun. Eliot White is the head of a site called Triangle, and he's working to bring the arts communities from around the region together. Really nice, enthusiastic guy...I like him very much and I think this is a great inroad for us all.
Later this month, I head back to my native New England for a needed vacation...but I'm not without enterprise.
On Friday, July 28th, I'll be at the Diesel Cafe on Elm St. in Somerville, Massachusetts to do a signing at the place that started "Live from the Cafe."
This is where it all began. And I didn't even know it.
Years ago, I went in there and saw a large, open place that had pint glasses of coffee, good food, and a cool place to hang out. I wrote, drank, and enjoyed it.
Back in York, PA, where I lived at the time, I was spitting distance from Borders. When it closed, I thought about opening my version of the Diesel there. The size, space, color and location made me think it could be a different place.
But different doesn't translate very well, does it? I don't think it would have worked, because change is not embraced too well at times. I also would not have had the money to get started, and who knows what a lease would have cost.
But it was a fun thought...and in my mind, I often asked myself, "What kind of coffee place would I run, if I opened one?"
From years of hanging out in coffee shops, corporate and otherwise, I started to find something that I thought would be cool. It might not make money in the real world, but I left it as a "Who Cares?" attitude for the story.
Le Cafe began to form in my head, and I drew upon the many people I watched, listened to and hung out with in places like these.
I had enough fodder for characters in my head to begin with, and then others started to filter in. 
And here we have it...a strange little place in a strange little town. The people are recognizable, I hope, the issues they face are real, and I hope I put you into a land that is at least understandable to your own situation.
I had a lot of fun writing this, and now I hope to bring it to you.
So yes, that strange author will be sitting about, hawking his wares in a different way...getting rid of the middleman...usually.
Diesel has been kind enough to have me, and then comes the really interesting one.
The next day, July 29th, I'll be doing a signing at my college. Saint Joseph's College of Maine is having me at the 30th reunion...well, mine is 30 years.
I hope to see old friends, and find out just how different we've become (or not), and I hope they'll see that awkward radio geek didn't turn out too badly.
I'm still in radio. That's enough to certify me, but I had that to start with.
So I'm gonna do that one, too. That's gonna be fun.
Been years since I was up in Maine, so I'll be hanging out with my sister and brother in law in Freeport, in their amazing old house, hooking up with old radio and music friends...
And on the radio as a subject!
WMPG 90.9 FM in Portland was WSJB's rival back in the day, or one of them on the left side of the dial. On Tuesday, August 1st, at 7:30 pm, Christopher White will host me on the Tuesday Night Talk Radio Club. They have a stream and everything...that will be of my old friends from Rocky Horror days, DJ Pete, will do a swing show right after
I will move about the region, and head to the midcoast for a bit of research, but also to help blast Pennsylvania out of my head for a time. 
So many people I'd like to see, and also a time to consider what next I'll do.
Now...back to the house...I'm really enjoying living in the 'burg, and the home is a cool little spot. I don't spend enough time in it, and I wish I could. I spent the better part of two days home, while inspections went on.
My chimney needed a metal sleeve and a cap, after UGI found it clogged by birds, and who knows what else. Got that done, and on the same day, UGI came back to untag my water heater, clean it and do the same assessment to my AC.
Costly, but needed. That's life.
Well, I have some touring to do this summer, books to sell, and I hope you'll find it in you to pick up "Live from the Cafe," and my others...the labor of love that these are comes with various prices, but I have enjoyed this long several years of creativity, and there's more to come. Much more.
Enjoy...and I hope to see you so I can sign your work and thank you personally for the support...and just to see anyone these days is important.
Not starting at screens or our phones. Like in the cafe, the rule ought to be: "No Wifi. Drink coffee, and talk to each other."
Peace, Out. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

"Live from the Cafe" Unveiling, Among Other Things

Well, here we are; cue 2001: A Space Odyssey theme!


Pretty colorful, eh?

Once again, great work by Mitch Bentley of Atomic Fly Studios, Harrisburg, PA. This time my publisher, Larry Knorr of Sunbury Press Books did the honors with the lettering.

We've kept it pretty close to the style and way of "A Moment in the Sun," and I think this is a good way...the cover always makes it, right?

Does it not make you want to enter the cafe...?

So what is all this? The hamlet of Harlandsville, Quebec is a very small town, tucked off the Trans Canada Highway somewhere in the neighborhood of Montreal, but far enough out that it's a distant land.

Where the life revolves around this weird little cafe, where the coffee is made through a strange machine, the owners are quirky, the workers and regulars even quirkier, and there are strange, mysterious and famous(?) guests who drop in, drink coffee, talk and play music.

What more fun do you need? the midst of my writing this... attorney and I engaged in a long discussion that led us into a caffeine-fueled world of other possibilities, for writing, for the various odd things I do, and the where the weird IS THE NEW FUCKING NORMAL.

The possiblities are there...I'm feeling better and more positive right now than I have in a very long time. It's a nice feeling. The work is going to pay off, in ways I had not imagined. 

It's all good.

Now...I'm going to sign my documents, and get into Mark Manson's "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck."

Among other things my mind works upon.

Thank you for the support. I hope you find it in you on July 11 or after to pick up "Live..." either from Sunbury Press, or that online monster company, or me.

Peace. Out.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Find What You Love, and Let it Kill You

Yeah, that's about what's happening with me right now...let's just have a little preface, which will lead you along in this business...

That should pretty much tell you everything. While I do not intend to sink into an alcohol and drug-fueled end (I did that in the past, not to mention the psychosis), I will tell you that there are things that lead us there, whether we want this or not.

Case in point: I am THIS FUCKING CLOSE to having everything in for my next book, Live from the Cafe, but it does seem something is holding us up. If not one thing, only serves to fuel my own weirdness, and if there is not enough stress in my life at this point, I didn't need more of it.

The big issue is: Sunbury Press has a release date planned for July 11th. I want to hit that. In fact, I've done all that I can do from my end. The final edits were sent in early this morning...we hit that date, I'm alright.

My cover artist, Mitch Bentley, delivered another gobsmacking cover, which is now off into the hands of the publisher for the lettering, and I've sent the boilerplate, the legal stuff, the backflap, all that shit.

We hit that date. That's the killer. The date. We gotta hit it.

Now, I am not pointing any fingers insinuations, or accusations, because who knows what hits us next, both the big things and little things.

...shit happens, I accept that shit happens, and that we can work through the shit that happens, and we make shit happen.

I don't fucking quit. Have you noticed that yet?

Mitch is now off at hopefully he runs into the Boys from Oklahoma who know how to roll their joints and he has a blast.

Such is the business, any business. These things happen, and I assume they happen for a reason.

Such as raising my blood pressure higher than fuck. 

Oh, here's a sneak peak at the clean cover...

Is that cool or what? Mitch paints vivid shots that open things up, and I hope once this also makes you want to drop in on the cafe In the Middle of Nowhere, Quebec.

Imagine a one-stop-light town, where everything seems old and out of time, but for a few things. There's one convenience store, a Chinese takeout joint, and all the life seems to revolve around this odd, rustic, massively uncorporate coffee place called Le Cafe.

Life in a small Northern Town, where the people are strong, the coffee stronger, and you never know who will show up to hang out, drink and play music.

You step back (I hope) into your own life. You remember change, resistance to change, what it was like to be young, and to stay young, and the people around you that you trusted, not just liked a little bit.

It's a weird place in our own lives but there it is. 

Not exactly a bucolic existence, and I have made it anything but. Some of this will make you uncomfortable because I am anything but comfy.

But I digress...

...I got into reading Bukowski's really gritty, nasty, down in the dirt poetry, his womanzing, drinking, horseplaying self, to the point you are on the bar crawls with this guy, the voyeur watching some of this stuff, and wondering how the fuck you got here.

It's life. We've all been there, or are there.

I am a bit more fortunate than others. I try not to judge, though I do admit to joking a lot. You have to have some kind of humor to get through this.

I am seeing things that are reflected in the book, but they come back in the alternative universe. Friends being torn to shit by stupid things like politics, the subtle difference between people is enough to unfriend them from Facebook, and then life itself.

Were any of us really friends?

Do we have friends?

I hate it when people bitch that so and so went off the rails because he/she didn't have "real" friends, and surrounded themselves with people who only did what they wanted 'em to do, enabled them, blah fucking blah.


Go to the mirror, have no more right than I do.

Now, friends...

It's sometimes...a chance meeting or a discussion will open the door to that person, the one you have not even met face to face, and you are presented with a really, genuinely nice, person. A kind that is that cool with who they are, and does not give a shit about what anyone else thinks.

They are rare.

I won't say who she is, but this is someone I knew over a year ago (still have not met), and we reconnected. Her actual recollection of this insignificant interviewer was heartening to me, and that she remembered what I was working on, above the amazing project she is now engaged in.

She asked, "How do you do it?"

My writing? I didn't answer right away, because I didn't know. I guess I rambled one off...but the time, energy and effort put into her project is the same as mine.

You give all of it, at that given moment.

Live from the Cafe is the current give. It's actually a pretty fair one, I think. I'll be shamelessly plugging away at that.

But this friend...yeah, she is one. I hope to meet her one day and say thank you for reminding me that you can open yourself up and be rewarded for it.

Not shredded for it.

There's too much shredding right now, internally and outwardly. 

We gotta stop shredding each other. Put aside the bullshit differences, and take each person as they are.

As much as some people will not believe it...despite my views on things, I don't give a fuck what yours are. 

You make it an issue. I try NOT to. Not always good at it, but I'm doing my best.

I hope you are.

So yeah...we have to dive into the morass every now and then, get covered in it, roll around in it, and be reminded where we are.

I get up and out of it and say, "Psych! I'm still here! Get used to it!"

And I hope you can put my madness aside enough to see what I've offered, and I hope it does some good.

There's a reason I don't blog much anymore...I want to put all my energy, the positive, good energy into the story, the words, the phrases, those fucked-up dysfunctional characters that travel 'round and 'round in my brain.

'Cause they're a little bit me...and a little bit you (sorry to Neil Diamond).

Anyway, to borrow from Bukowski...there, I feel better.

Pour me another.

Peace, Out.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Other Roads Club, Reconsidered

Well, here's a look at an old manuscript...I began writing "The Other Roads Club" trilogy back in 2008 or '09...after a number of years of edits, and fooling around with it, I realize it's got a long way to go. But I wanted to play around with it stands up pretty well. I can see where my style has changed over the years. I wonder what you think...this is the introduction from Book 1, "Take Another Road." Let's meet a new/old heroine, Aimi, and her interesting friends...

Chapter 1--Letters, and the Golden Pair
Dear Kira-chan: I have only a short time before breakfast, so I must make this note a quick one. I was up late into the night reading The Bonesetter’s Daughter. Amy Tan is a wondrous writer; the story was at times sad, but one that really made you think. I will see if I can find more of her stories in the library.
So yes, I still read a great deal. It helps in these days, but I am well, and I hope you are the same. I miss you very much, yet each day I do my best to move forward.
Kaz will be meeting up with Kaldera today, and I just might get to meet this other boy who has been taking lessons from him. Kaz says he is very different, but someone he’s sure I’d like. He too likes to read and is very much into the western classics.
Mother is calling me; I must go. I love you, Kira-chan, as always…Aimi.
Aimi Okuda set her writing aside and cast a brief glance at the framed photograph that looked down from the top shelf of her desk. Smoothing back her long black hair, she turned and stood before the mirror above the dresser. Aimi clipped two metal barrettes in place, adjusted the collar and matching blue neck ribbon of her school uniform and the waist of the short, pleated skirt; she then made sure the level of her blue legwarmers matched at the knees. Aimi then picked up her book bag and stepped out the sliding door into the narrow hallway.
Moving past her parents’ bedroom, Aimi looked out into the front of her home. To her right was the small, threadbare living room. To her left in the kitchen, a woman had just finished packing lunches for the family.
“Good morning, Mom,” Aimi said as she slid past the breakfast table behind her mother.
“Good morning.” Madoka returned her daughter’s greeting and closed the three wooden bento boxes before setting them on the counter next to the stove. “Aimi,” she asked, “would you shout down the basement to your father? Breakfast is ready, and we’ve got to leave soon.”
“Okay.” Footsteps clumped up the steps now, so Aimi took her place at the low table. Tucking her long pigtail securely inside her red morning robe, Madoka sat beside her daughter, and the two began to serve three plates of rice rolled in seaweed, setting them beside small bowls of soy sauce, along with last night’s leftover baked fish.
“Here I am, no need to yell for me.” Aimi’s father, Goro squeezed himself through the tiny door that led to the cellar and slid it shut behind him. Dressed in blue jeans and a dark blue work shirt, he entered the kitchen and sat down across from his wife. Goro was in his early forties, short but strongly built. He ran his hand through his black hair, which had a few grey streaks in it and picked up his coffee cup. “The new flutes are packed and ready,” he said before taking a sip of the black brew. “They should go over well today.”
The Okuda family owned and operated a small shop in the Ameyoko section of Tokyo. The area was once the source of black market goods following World War II, but had since evolved into a colorful, bustling place of business. Their shop specialized in traditional and modern Japanese artwork. The more popular items were prints of certain scenes the tourists favored, but Goro’s handmade flutes or shakuhachi were popular, as were Madoka’s calligraphy paintings.
As the three began to eat, Aimi told them, “I will be over after school to help.” She related to her parents of the meeting that was scheduled to take place.
“Good.” Goro nodded approvingly and said, “Tell Kaldera if you see him that I may have some money for him. I believe a buyer is coming for that guitar of his.”
“I will.” The family discussed the upcoming day’s work at the shop, and the activities at Aimi’s school. “The class trip to Koga is next weekend,” she commented, “it’s all anyone’s been talking about.”
Madoka looked with sympathy at her daughter. “I’m sorry we couldn’t afford for you to go, Aimi. It would have been good for you.”
Aimi shrugged. “It’s okay,” she replied, her expression and voice sincere. “Kaz and Mei aren’t going, either. Besides,” she went on, “I have a feeling something else is going to happen that will beat going to see the Ninja Museum!”
All three laughed as a knock came on the door, which slid back a moment later. “Morning, all,” a female voice called.
The Okudas welcomed in the new arrivals, a uniformed boy and girl. “Hello, Kaz, Mei,” Aimi returned.            
“Come sit,” Goro told the pair, and the two removed their shoes and took up spaces on either side of Aimi.
“Yes, and help yourselves,” Madoka told them. She motioned to the plates on the table, “there’s plenty.”
“Oh no, thank you,” the one called Kaz returned politely. “I’m well-fed.” Kazuhiro Ogawa was tall and thin; his black hair was worn long, but not so much to become a concern for the school district’s regulations. He lived next door to Aimi, as he had all their lives.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Mei said as she helped herself to a piece of the nori and dipped it into Aimi’s bowl. Meiho Maeda was another neighbor on the street, the most outgoing of the group. Mei was thickset in her build, the product of years of martial arts training. The uniform showed off her musculature, in particular her well-defined thighs and calves.
These, however, weren’t the first things people tended to notice when they saw Mei for the first time. Her face was plain, but bore the bloodlines of Korea as well as Japan. Her hair was black, thick and very long, held in place by several bobby pins and a black plastic hair clip. Her dark eyes were accented by the black eye makeup she wore; this plus her larger than normal girth gave Mei a menacing image. “How is everyone?” She asked, taking care to swallow before speaking.
“Another day,” Goro replied and rolled his eyes to the ceiling, “another day poorer,” which again drew laughter.
“How is your mother doing, Mei?” Madoka asked. “I feel sad I’ve not been over to visit in a while.”
Mei nodded. “Mom’s better today,” she replied, “and she says hello to all of you.” Mei’s mother had been ill for some time and was no longer able to work. As a result, Mei looked after her, especially on her more difficult days.
Aimi looked to Kaz. “How are your mom and dad, by the way?” She asked.
Kaz shrugged, and the look on his face showed right away. “They were both out the door before I was up,” he replied, “the usual.” Kaz’s father was lead mechanic at an automotive repair center in the city, while his mother worked in a downtown department store. The Ogawa’s of late were rarely seen, due to their schedules.
Aimi had known that her first question had struck a nerve, and inside she wished she hadn’t asked it. Changing the subject, Aimi then asked, “How about today? Kaldera’s coming over to school, right?”
At the mention of Kaldera, Kaz became more like himself. “Yes, and Minoru’s coming by, too,” he said. “You guys will love him. He’s quite the musician.” Kaz went on to explain that Minoru went to the exclusive public school near theirs.
Seated between her friends, Aimi detected the barely perceptible growl that came from her left, from Mei. She made no reaction to it, and Aimi continued to listen to Kaz. “He’s very good on the shamisen,” Kaz explained, “and he’s been learning guitar like I have from Kaldera. Oh, and another thing: Kaldera wants to take the boat out next weekend. He wanted to know if you would be interested.”
Madoka smiled. “Well, Aimi,” she said, “you just predicted something different might happen.”
“What does Kaldera have in mind?” Goro asked, equally interested.
“I don’t know,” Kaz replied. “He just mentioned it in passing the other day. He’s also planning to play out this week. I hope he’ll let us know more about that, too.”
Aimi then turned to Mei. “What’s up with your Tae Kwon Do?” She asked. “Did you hear about the testing?”
“Yes.” Mei smiled, probably her first broad one of the day. “Matsunaga-Sensei says I’m all but ready for my test, the big one.”
All voiced congratulations. Now sixteen (the same age as her friends), Mei had risen through the junior ranks to the red belt. The aforementioned final test would come soon, and if all went well, Mei would gain the long-sought black belt. “I’ve been waiting for this a long time,” she said, “and I’m hopeful; but I’m not gonna believe it until Sensei says so.”
“Well,” Kaz said, “we’ll be there to see it.”
The group broke up, and Madoka invited the pair over for dinner that evening. A regular occurrence, as Kaz’s parents tended to work long hours, and it gave Mei a break from home.            
The three watched and waved goodbye to Aimi’s parents as they drove down the narrow street in the old white Suzuki mini truck. With the Okudas on their way, the three teenagers headed in the other direction. In addition to his book bag, Kaz also carried his acoustic guitar in its hard case.
“So we’ll finally get to meet Minoru,” Aimi said. “You’ve spoken so well of him; I am anxious to find out what he’s like.”
Mei nodded, but said nothing. Her gaze appeared fixed ahead, but as Aimi was a little shorter, she could note that her friend’s eyes were downcast. Reaching out, she put her hand into Mei’s, the other into Kaz’s.
Aimi noticed that Mei’s smile returned, and Kaz had one as well. That made hers even larger. It will be a good day. I am glad to make my two oldest friends smile. Then I can smile a little more, too.
* * *
The silver Jaguar pulled up to the curb and stopped without a sound. The rear door opened, and the tall girl alighted. Bending from the waist, she leaned into the window and thanked the driver, then stood to watch him drive away.
She turned to look over the main courtyard of Katsuhashi Academy. The fan-shaped yard which led to the main doors of the impressive brick building was populated by numerous uniformed students. Most talked in small groups; a few were seated on the grass or on benches, studying or socializing before homeroom.
The girl checked her face in a compact mirror before walking in, and noted with some satisfaction that the eyes of many of the male students and older passerby were on her lean, athletic body. She ascertained her white and blue uniform blouse was straight, the red scarf and the seams of her short dark blue skirt in line. Shouldering her book bag, she walked into the courtyard and brushed back her long, flowing black hair with careful casualness.
She looked over the knots of boys, they in the all-black uniform of the spring semester. The girl listened as well, but not to the chatter of her fellow students. She did not hear that other sound which she expected at this time of the morning
“Asuka-san! Ohayo!” The call of two girls’ voices broke Asuka from her search, and she turned to greet her classmates as they rushed up.
“Ohayo.” Homoka and Masami were two of her closest friends; like Asuka, both were in their second year of high school. The former was Asuka’s teammate in field hockey. She was short and had the classic, thin build of a Japanese girl. Her hair was long and black and styled much like that of Asuka’s. Masami was also thin, but she did not play sports. Her own straight hair hung past her shoulders, and she wore expensive eyeglasses, plus a black beret perched at the correct angle on her head.
The girls walked on either side of Asuka as they passed through the courtyard. Over the typical questions of how her friends were doing plus other matters of the school day, Asuka was paying only scant attention. She continued to search ahead of her; then near the main doors, she saw a boy sitting alone on a bench with a curious musical instrument in his hands.
“Minoru-kun,” she called as she moved quickly to his side. As she did, the boy rose, carefully set down his shamisen, bowed and smiled.
Minoru Higa was a teenager that would stand out in any crowd. He was tall, and looked even thinner than he was in the uniform. His hair was thick and naturally wavy, the ends just a little past his collar. This was actually against regulations at Katsuhashi; but then, Minoru seemed to get away with such things.
“Good morning, Asuka-chan.” Minoru accepted Asuka’s police kiss. He also hailed Homoka and Masami and bowed to them, which pleased the girls much more than a simple greeting should.
“How are you today?” Asuka looked into those dark, almost black eyes.
“I am quite well, thank you,” he quietly replied. “I’m glad I got to see you before school, Asuka. I wanted to ask you about something.”
Longtime friends, Minoru dispensed with the honorific, usually after the initial greeting. That to Asuka was just one of Minoru’s “ways,” of which there were many.
“Of course,” Asuka replied.
As on cue, Asuka’s friends made their excuses and stepped away. Minoru chuckled at this. “They are so tactful,” he joked. “You have them well trained.”
The two laughed as they sat on the bench. As Minoru placed his shamisen in a padded leather shoulder bag, Asuka replied, “They are not trained, I can assure you, Minoru. They are merely kind about giving us our space.”
“Yes, and carrying on with the Camelot-like nature of what they, and everyone else thinks our relationship is.” Setting the bag alongside his books, Minoru said, still smiling (though Asuka could tell its meaning had changed), “I gather you have heard what they’re all saying about us.”
“I care not what others say,” Asuka replied. “It is what we both think that matters.”
“Supposedly,” Minoru went on, “we are the Golden Pair. That perfect couple.” He snorted with barely hidden distaste. “I don’t know about you, Asuka, but frankly I am embarrassed by it.”
Asuka gently laid her hand on Minoru’s shoulder. “No one means anything bad by it,” she said. “Yes, I have heard that too, and it is rather juvenile. Let the others talk; it means nothing to me.”
She watched as Minoru turned slightly and looked into her eyes. They seemed sad and apologetic. “I didn’t mean to put down your friends,” he told her. “I’m sorry.”
“No, don’t think that. You are so decent to everyone,” Asuka said. “Don’t worry about them, or me. We have each other; that is what matters, isn’t that right?”
Minoru smiled. “Right,” he replied. “Oh, if I may now ask you about that certain something?”
Asuka smiled and nodded. “You may.”
“Kaldera is going to be over at Masuyo today,” Minoru explained. “I’m meeting up with my good friend Kaz over there, too. Why don’t you come with me? You know Kaldera already, and I think you’d really get along with Kaz and his friends.”
As he spoke, Minoru examined Asuka’s expression. At the mention of the name of the public school, her eyebrows raised and her face, slimmer in its lines than most Japanese, took on a slight change and the smile fell away. Minoru expected this; it was the logical, almost programmed reaction where Asuka was concerned.
“I…don’t know,” Asuka replied, but she looked away and said no more.
“Oh, do come with me, Asuka.” Minoru took her hand, and quickly added, “It is not like we would be exploring a wild world. Kaz is a fine person, and I’m quite excited to meet these friends of his. A few new friends are always a good thing, wouldn’t you say?”
Asuka turned to face him, and her smile returned. “You can talk me into anything, Minoru,” she replied. “Yes, I’ll gladly go with you. The hockey season is over, and the dinner party is not until later in the evening. By the way, you are coming, aren’t you?”
“Indeed.” The two rose, and Minoru shouldered his shamisen. “Your father has become rather a patron of my music, which I am grateful for.”
As he picked up his books with his free hand, Asuka noted the familiar leather-bound volume atop the stack. “Here I stand amid the roar…” she chided.
…of a surf-tormented shore,” Minoru returned with a grin.

The outside loudspeakers then emitted the tones for homeroom, and the two entered the building hand in hand, awash in the mass of those wearing the school’s colors.